The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.

[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]

[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Re: [casi] Baghdad's simmering religious tensions

Dear all

Juan Cole has recently published a good article on the differences among the
Shia groupings.

In particular he argues that among the most politically (and militarily)
active groups Ayatollah Khomeini's innovative idea that the clergy should
exercise political power has made great progress. He gives what appears to
be a good account of the background to Muqtada al-Sadr's movement arguing
effectively that it was already largely in control of the ground, even in
the Holy Cities, before the war. He says they had expelled the Baath Party
from 'Saddam City' before the arrival of the Americans.

I give below an extract mainly dealing with Shi'i history. The rest of the
article is mainly to do with the implications for US foreign policy which he
argues was based on a fantasy version of Iraqi society in general and of the
Shi'i in particular


*  The Iraqi Shiites -On the history of Americaıs would-be allies
by Juan Cole

The ambitious aim of the American war in Iraq‹articulated by Richard Perle,
Paul Wolfowitz, and other neoconservative defense intellectuals‹was to
effect a fundamental transformation in Middle East politics. The war was
not‹or not principally‹about finding weapons of mass destruction, or
preventing alliances with al Qaeda, or protecting the Iraqi population from
Saddamıs terror. For U.S. policy makers the importance of such a
transformation was brought home by the events of September 11, which
challenged U.S. strategy in the region by compromising the longstanding U.S.
alliance with Saudi Wahhabis. In response to this challenge, the Bush
administration saw the possibility of creating a new pillar for U.S. policy
in the region: a post-Baathist Iraq, dominated by Iraqi Shiites, which would
spark a wave of democratization across the Middle East.

But the Bush administration badly neglected the history of the group they
wanted to claim as their new ally. Who are the Iraqi Shiites? And how likely
are they to support democracy or U.S. goals in the region? To address these
questions, we will first need some background.


The Iraqi Shiites

Shiites in Iraq were radicalized and brutalized by two major events: the
Baath crackdown on Shiite political activity in the late 1970s and 1980s,
and the crushing of the 1991 uprising and subsequent persecution of and even
genocide against Shiites in the South. As a result of the cruel 1990s,
Khomeinist ideas gained far more purchase with the poverty-stricken and
desperate younger generation than a secular middle-class expatriate like
Chalabi could have dreamed. Indeed, Chalabi left Iraq in 1958 and the
beginnings of organized Shiite politics coincide more or less exactly with
the time of his departure.

Shiite religious politics in Iraq largely date from the founding of the
al-Da`wa Party in 1957. Al-Da`wa sought to establish an Islamic state in
Iraq. Among its major theorists was Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, a prominent
cleric and intellectual who dedicated himself to developing a modernist
Shiite ideology that could compete with Marxism.

Although Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini developed his theory of clerical rule
(vilayat-i faqih) while in exile in Najaf (1964­1978), it did not become
immediately popular among most clerics there. Najaf had long been a center
of seminary education and clerical jurisprudence, and lay Shiites generally
followed its leading scholar, called an Object of Emulation, in matters of
religious law. Shiites of this branch believed that the Prophet Muhammadıs
successors or vicars were his cousin and son-in-law, Ali, and the eleven
lineal descendants of Ali and the Prophetıs daughter, Fatima. The twelfth of
these vicars or ³Imams² was held to have disappeared into a supernatural
realm, from which he would one day return. In the absence of the hidden
Twelfth Imam, the mainstream of the Shiite tradition gradually turned to
trained clergymen as their leaders. Although scholastic Twelver Shiism (the
branch practiced in Iran and Iraq) had as its ideal that the laity would
follow the rulings of the single most learned and upright Object of
Emulation, in fact there were always several contenders for the position.
Religious authority was thus multiple. There was no Shiite pope, even if the
theorists of clerical authority sometimes seemed to wish for one. Moreover,
the Shiite tradition of thinking about political power did not envisage that
clerics would exercise direct political power. In the medieval and early
modern periods most clerics heaped fulsome praise on Shiite monarchs who
defended the faith. Khomeiniıs thought was revolutionary. He maintained that
monarchy is incompatible with Islam, and he insisted that in the absence of
the Hidden Twelfth Imam, the clergy should rule. Khomeini taught the
³guardianship of the jurisprudent.² At the top of the Islamic government, as
head of state, should stand a clerical jurisprudent who would safeguard the
interests of Shiite Islam. Laypersons could serve in parliament and even as
president, but supreme power would be in clerical hands. This vision
differed deeply from the lay versions of Muslim fundamentalism, which wanted
a medieval interpretation of Islamic law to become the law of the land but
did not give any special place in the governmental system to Muslim

While many clerics in the Najaf tradition wanted a state governed by Islamic
principles, they rejected Khomeiniıs idea that clerics themselves should
rule. Moreover, Iraqıs own theorist of Islamic government, Muhammad Baqir
al-Sadr, envisaged an elected assembly that need not be made up of clerics.
Thus, the initial Iraqi Shiite idea of an Islamic state was at odds with the
Khomeinist theory that came to dominate Iran in 1979.

In response to the large Shiite demonstrations of 1977 and the Islamic
Revolution in Iran of 1979, the Baath repressed Shiite religious parties and
leaders relentlessly. They hanged al-Sadr in 1980 and made membership in the
al-Da`wa Party a capital crime. Many al-Da`wa members were arrested and the
party went deep underground, expanding its cell organization even as it
dispersed geographically.

In the 1980s and 1990s al-Da`wa had several bases. One group of members and
leaders took refuge in Iran. Another was based in London. Inside Iraq, the
organization remained strong in the Middle Euphrates region (in southern
Iraq), especially around Nasiriya. The Basra branch, called Tanzim al-Da`wa,
rejected Khomeinism. These branches were not in good contact with one
another and developed quite differently with regard to ideology and

The pro-Khomeini ³Islamic Jihad² group, linked to al-Da`wa and based in
Lebanon and Iran, blew up the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait in late
1983 and hijacked a Kuwaiti airliner a year later. (In this period of the
Iran-Iraq War, the United States and Kuwait were backing Saddam Hussein).
Islamic Jihad may have been a splinter group or it may have been a covert
paramilitary operation of the Tehran-based al-Da`wa Party. But to the extent
that al-Da`wa itself engaged in violence and took credit for it, the target
was the Baath in Iraq.

As many as 200,000 Iraqi Shiites ended up in political exile in Iran over
the course of the 1980s and 1990s. Many of these exiles joined the
Iran-based al-Da`wa, which tended to accept Khomeiniıs idea of clerical
rule. But the organization was riven by internal fighting over the partyıs
relationship to the Supreme Jurisprudent. Clerical leaders of the al-Da`wa
seemed especially attracted by Khomeinism, while the lay leaders insisted on
maintaining the partyıs autonomy from the Supreme Jurisprudent. The question
had implications for al-Da`waıs future. Was it to become a mere appendage of
Tehran or remain an Iraqi party with a distinctive ideology? Some clerical
members of the partyıs central committee, such as Muhammad Mahdi Asefi and
Sayyid Kazim al-Haeri, wanted the party to put itself under the direct
authority of Khomeini and then his successor, Ali Khamenei. This step would
have entailed dissolving the party into the Iranian Hezbollah. Khomeini
himself reportedly showed no enthusiasm for this step, and the lay members
of the executive committee were also unwilling to subordinate themselves to
the religious institution. The issue festered inside the party throughout
the late 1980s and into the 1990s in Iran. In 2000 Asefi was forced to
resign as party leader over his continued attempts to put it under the
authority of Iranian Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei.

The al-Da`wa branch in London (led by Abo Ali and Ibrahim Jaafari) had a
more lay cast. It also had the greatest freedom of movement, and so the
center of gravity of the party moved away from Iran.

The circumstances for al-Da`wa were worst within Iraq. During and after the
post­Gulf War uprising of 1991, thousands of al-Da`wa members or alleged
members were arrested, executed, and buried in mass graves.

Of course, al-Da`wa was not the only Iraqi Shiite group, and in 1982 Shiite
activists in Iran, attempting to create an umbrella movement for the
overthrow of Saddam Hussein, founded the Supreme Council for Islamic
Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), with al-Da`wa as one of the constituent
organizations. In 1984 Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, member of a leading Iraqi
Shiite family and an associate of al-Sadr, became the head of SCIRI (also
called SAIRI). The same year, al-Da`wa broke with SCIRI in order to maintain
its independence. Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim accepted Khomeiniıs theory of
clerical rule. SCIRI took credit for bombings and assassination plots
against the Baath in Baghdad. It organized a militia, the Badr Brigade,
which carried out attacks across the Iranian border into Iraq. This
paramilitary, trained and armed by Iranıs Revolutionary Guards, over time
grew to become the Badr Corps, consisting of 10,000 fighters by the late
1990s. In the 1990s, SCIRI and the Iranian al-Da`wa developed a deadly
rivalry, to the point that (according to rumors) al-Da`wa members targeted
Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim himself.

The London-based branch of al-Da`wa was drawn into the Iraqi National
Congress (INC) in 1992­1995. Iraqi financier Ahmad Chalabi had founded the
INC as an umbrella group after the Gulf War, with CIA help and funds (via
the Rendon Group). Chalabi had had to flee Jordan for London in the late
1980s under suspicion of massive embezzlement from the bank he headed there.
A secular Shiite, he worked in London in the 1990s to unite 19 organizations
grouping religious Shiites, their secular coreligionists, Sunni Arabs
(including ex-Baathists), and Kurds. The INC managed to include both
al-Da`wa and al-Hakimıs SCIRI for a while.

But al-Da`wa left the INC in 1995, in part over disputes with the Kurds, who
wanted to see Iraq transformed into a loose federation, whereas al-Da`wa
favored a strong central state. The Kurds in turn fell into a bitter civil
war around the same time, and the INC was torn apart by infighting. The CIA
and the State Department gradually distanced themselves from it, because of
unaccounted-for monies, though the INC and Chalabi remained in the good
graces of Paul Wolfowitz and other American neoconservatives. The INCıs
fortunes improved when the hawks took back the Defense Department in 2001.
In the aftermath of September 11 Chalabi managed to put back together a
coalition of SCIRI, the Kurdish groups, and others, though al-Da`wa
generally kept its distance.

In the meantime, inside Iraq, Saddamıs government appeared determined to
wipe out Iraqi Shiism. It tried to draw Shiites away to secular Baathism and
launched cruel attacks on recalcitrant villages in the south. Some 500,000
marsh Arabs of the Madan tribes‹fishermen, farmers and smugglers‹employed
their swamps to hide from the Baathist troops and to conduct hit-and-run
guerrilla operations against them. They were organized by the Iraqi
Hezbollah, or Party of God, and received some Iranian help. They also
sometimes coordinated with SCIRIıs Badr Corps, which infiltrated the swamps
from Iran. In response Baath engineers built dams and irrigation works that
drained the swamps. By the early 21st century only 10 percent of the swamps
survived; the rest had turned to dust. The marsh Arabs were scattered, some
to nearby villages and towns as dirt-poor laborers, others to exile in Iran.

Many Shiites with a village-tribal background had also settled in East
Baghdadıs al-Thawrah township, which had been founded by military dictator
al-Qasim in 1962. Dwelling in grinding poverty and largely deprived of the
benefits of Iraqıs petroleum bonanza, they often rioted against the Baath,
with particular force in 1977 and 1991. In each case they met vicious
repression. By the 1990s their population had swelled to some two million,
nearly 10 percent of the country. They retained some tribal ties and
organization in their new urban environment and began turning away from folk
Shiism to a more scholastic urban religious outlook.

In scholastic Shiism each believer must choose a prominent clergyman and
follow his rulings on the minutiae of religious law, such as ³Since perfume
has alcohol in it, and alcohol is forbidden, may a Shiite wear perfume?² The
most popular and authoritative such clergyman, or Object of Emulation, had
usually been the foremost scholar in the shrine and seminary city of Najaf.
In the 1960s it was Muhsin al-Hakim, and then the torch passed to Abu
al-Qasim al-Khoei.

After al-Khoeiıs death in 1992, however, a generation gap developed. Older
Shiites tended to follow al-Khoeiıs disciple, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani,
who was originally from Iran. A quietist, he rejected involvement in
politics and rejected Khomeiniıs theory of clerical rule. The new
generation, however, was attracted to a younger, activist scholar named
Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr. A cousin of the martyred theorist of Islamic
government in Iraq, Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, Sadiq emerged as a political
organizer of some genius. He established networks of believers loyal to him
in Basra, East Baghdad, Kufa, and the shrine cities of Najaf and Karbala.
Although he did not have Sistaniıs seniority, he also lacked the elder manıs
timidity. In the 1990s Sadr II, as he became known, repeatedly defied

Saddam had attempted to outlaw Friday prayers among the Shiites. Sadr II
insisted on leading them, and established a network of mosques in the slums
of East Baghdad where congregants furtively gathered on Friday afternoons.
Sadr II compared Saddam to a tyrannical medieval caliph who persecuted the
Shiites of his day. He organized informal Shiite religious courts throughout
the country and tried to convince tribal Shiites to come under the sway of
formal jurisprudence. He denounced women, including Christians, who dared go
out unveiled. He lambasted his followers if they wore clothing with Western
labels. He preached against Israel. He accepted Khomeiniıs theory of the
rule of the jurisprudent, and may have had his eye on the position for
himself in Iraq.

Sadr II gained some two million followers for his militant, Khomeini-style
Shiism. Then, after warning him to fall silent, Saddamıs secret police
assassinated him and two of his sons in February of 1999. The South erupted
in riots, which were, predictably, put down by the jackboot.

The Shiites Under Occupation

Sadr IIıs young son, Muqtada al-Sadr, was heir to a family tradition of
martyrdom. Married to the orphaned daughter of Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr (Sadr
I), he went underground in Kufa and East Baghdad, continuing his fatherıs
networking and organizing among young Shiite slum dwellers. The American
invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003 proved to be a windfall for him. Even
before the Baath fell on April 9, his followers had expelled the party from
East Baghdad, which they renamed Sadr City. Muqtadaıs young clerical
devotees reopened mosques and other Shiite institutions, established
neighborhood militias, captured arms and ammunitions from Baath depots, took
over hospitals, and asserted local authority in East Baghdad, Kufa, and some
neighborhoods of Najaf, Karbala, and Basra. They engaged in crowd politics,
calling for frequent demonstrations against the Anglo-American occupation in
Baghdad, Basra, and Najaf, sometimes managing to get out crowds of 5,000 to

In the meantime, the al-Da`wa Party reemerged in Nasiriya, Basra, and
elsewhere, though not nearly on the scale of the Sadr II bloc. The
London-based branch of al-Da`wa, which had been willing to cooperate with
the Americans, emerged as the most prominent, hooking back up with cell
members in Nasiriya and Basra. Many figures associated with the Iranian
branch remained in Tehran, unwilling to return to an Iraq under American
dominance. The attempt of the heir to the al-Khoei name, Abd al-Majid
al-Khoei, to come back and assert authority in Najaf (probably with U.S.
backing) failed when he was cut down by a Sadrist mob in April. SCIRI
leaders returned to Iraq in April and May, and their Badr Corps fighters
slipped back into the country from Iran, establishing themselves in eastern
cities, such as Baquba and Kut, near the Iranian border. They failed to get
much purchase in East Baghdad or other Sadrist areas, however. Although
SCIRI proved willing to work with the Americans, the Badr Corps often
clashed with U.S. troops in Baquba and elsewhere.

Both the Sadr II bloc and SCIRI sought a clerically dominated Islamic
republic in Iraq, though with different announced strategies. Muqtada was
plain-spoken about the goal and refused to cooperate with the United States
in attaining it. SCIRI, in contrast, thought in terms of a two-step process.
Badr Corps commander Abdul Aziz al-Hakim articulated the process in a
television interview, saying that Iraqis would first choose a pluralistic
government, but in the long term the Shiite majority would opt for an
Islamic republic. This plan resembled the machinations of Communist parties
in the early 20th century who collaborated with the national bourgeoisie to
establish postcolonial states but aimed for ultimate Communist dictatorship.

The destruction of the Baathist regime did not end the longstanding fights
among its opponents. SCIRI, the Sadr II Bloc, al-Da`wa, and followers of
Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani conducted an underground war against one
another, struggling for control of key symbolic spaces. Chief among these
were the shrine of Imam Husayn (martyred grandson of the Prophet Muhammad)
in Karbala and the shrine of Imam Ali (the Prophetıs cousin and son-in-law)
in Najaf. Sadrists fought followers of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani for the
right to preach sermons at the mosque of al-Husayn. In late July Sadrist
mobs demonstrated in front of the Karbala shrine against U.S. presence in
the city, and the Marines responded to gunfire by firing into the crowd,
killing at least one and wounding nine. The Sadrists, knowing the power of
the martyrıs shrine as a symbol of resistance to outsiders, provoked the
clueless Marines. In Najaf reports surfaced throughout the summer of Sadrist
thugs beating up aides and relatives of Sistani and the clerics around him
and taking over many of the cityıs seminaries. In July Sadrists invaded the
religious properties administration of the Sunnis in Basra, raising alarms
among that minority that the Sadrists intended to usurp mosques and other
property. Some 15,000 Sunnis demonstrated against this threat. Sadrists were
also implicated in fomenting anti-coalition rioting in Basra on August 9­10.

Muqtada al-Sadr called in mid-July for the establishment of an alternative
Iraqi government and army to compete with the U.S.-appointed body. But both
SCIRI and al-Da`wa, despite their own deep differences, accepted posts on
the Interim Governing Council appointed by U.S. civil administrator Paul
Bremer on July 13. Indeed, persons with al-Da`wa ties gained four of the 25
seats, and SCIRI was given a seat as well. When Iraqis go to the polls, if
the Sadrists are willing to field candidates they are likely to do very
well. SCIRI and al-Da`wa seem to have fewer enthusiasts and may be
challenged in translating their tactical alliance with the United States
into parliamentary clout.

On August 29 a huge truck bomb in Najaf killed SCIRI leader Muhammad Baqir
al-Hakim and nearly 100 others. Most suspicion fell on remnants of Saddamıs
Baath Party or on Sunni radicals affiliated in some way with al Qaeda. Badr
Corps militiamen came out into the streets of Najaf and some other cities,
insisting on mounting armed patrols. Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the slain
ayatollahıs brother, became the head of SCIRI and angrily called for an
immediate American withdrawal from Iraq, given that it had failed so
miserably to restore security. Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, a moderate cleric with
ties to the Khoei Foundation and the al-Da`wa Party, immediately suspended
his membership in the Interim Governing Council in protest. The leader of
the Council of Sunni Clergymen charged that in the aftermath, the followers
of Muqtada al-Sadr were fomenting anti-Sunni violence and had usurped Sunni
mosques in Najaf and Karbala. The potential for serious Shiite-Sunni clashes
down the road cannot be ruled out.

To be sure, ³secular² Iraqi Shiites also exist, and in fair numbers. But the
years of Saddamıs terror have helped to generate a powerful Khomeinist
current in Iraqi Shiism. Al-Da`wa, SCIRI, and the Sadrists all want an
Islamic republic, and two of the three endorse Khomeiniıs ³rule of the
jurisprudent.² Ironically, Wolfowitz visited Najaf and Karbala in the second
half of July and inadvertently set off a riot in Najaf. The U.S. Marines
increased their security for his visit, which came a day after Muqtadaıs
fiery sermon calling for the establishment of a shadow government and
popular Shiite militia. The increased security raised fears among Sadrists
that the United States planned to arrest him (which is, after all, what
Saddam would have done). The rumor of such an attempted arrest provoked
demonstrations by thousands of Sadrists late on a Saturday, after Wolfowitz
had left. They were repeated on Sunday, until the crowds were convinced that
Muqtada had not been bothered.


In removing the Baath regime and eliminating constraints on Iraqi Islamism,
the United States has unleashed a new political force in the Gulf: not the
upsurge of civic organization and democratic sentiment fantasized by
American neoconservatives, but the aspirations of Iraqi Shiites to build an
Islamic republic. That result was an entirely predictable consequence of the
past 30 years of political conflict between the Shiites and the Baathist
regime, and American policy analysts have expected a different result only
by ignoring that history.

To be sure, the dreams of a Shiite Islamic republic in Baghdad may be
unrealistic: a plurality of the country is Sunni, and some proportion of the
14 million Shiites is secularist. In the months after the Anglo-American
invasion, however, the religious Shiite parties demonstrated the clearest
organizational skills and established political momentum. The Islamists are
likely to be a powerful enough group in parliament that they may block the
sort of close American-Iraqi cooperation that the neoconservatives had hoped
for. The spectacle of Wolfowitzıs party heading out of Najaf just before the
outbreak of a major demonstration of 10,000 angry Sadrists, inadvertently
provoked by the Americans, may prove an apt symbol for the American
adventure in Iraq. The August 29 bombing in Najaf deeply shook the
confidence of Shiites in the American ability to provide them security, and
provoked anger against the United States that will take some time to heal.

In addition, the Saudis cannot be pushed out of the oil picture so easily.
It will be years before Iraq can produce much more than three to five
million barrels a day. A good deal of that petroleum, and much of the profit
from it, will be needed for internal reconstruction and debt servicing. It
would take a decade and a half to two decades for Iraqi capacity to achieve
parity with that of the Saudis (11 million barrels a day), and even then
they will not have the Saudisı low overhead and smaller native population.
The Saudis can choose to produce only seven million of the 76 million
barrels of petroleum pumped in the world every day, or they can produce 11
million. That flexibility, along with their clout in the OPEC cartel, lets
them exercise a profound influence on the price, and Iraq will not be able
to counterbalance it soon. Neoconservative fears about Saudi complicity with
al Qaeda are also overdrawn, since the Saudi elite feels as threatened by
the Sunni radicals as the United States does. High Saudi officials have even
expressed regret about their past support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which
they now see as dangerous in a way that mainstream Wahhabism is not. (Would
that Reaganite supporters of the mujahidin were similarly contrite!) So the
U.S. alliance with the House of Saud, however badly shaken by September 11
and Wahhabi radicalism, will provide an essential foundation for world
petroleum stability into the indefinite future.

For now, the United States is back to having two footstools in the Middle
East: Israel and Saudi Arabia. Iraq has proven too rickety, too unknown, too
devastated to bear the weight of the strategic shift imagined by the hawks.
And far from finally defeating Khomeinism, U.S. policy has given it millions
of liberated Iraqi allies. Their new Iraqi Interim Governing Council has
declined to recognize Israel, citing Iraqıs membership in the Arab League
and lack of genuine progress toward a Palestinian state. Al Qaeda and allied
terrorist threats were not countered by the invasion of Iraq.


Originally published in the October/November 2003 issue of Boston Review

> From: Hassan <>
> Date: Tue, 28 Oct 2003 23:47:39 -0800 (PST)
> To: CASI <>
> Subject: [casi] Baghdad's simmering religious tensions
> Date: Sunday, 26 October, 2003
> Baghdad's simmering religious tensions
> By Martin Asser
> BBC News Online correspondent in Baghdad
> Two corpses lie in cold storage at the Baghdad
> children's hospital - still known locally by its old
> name, Saddam Hospital.
> The bodies have been cleaned up now - bound up in the
> traditional Islamic fashion and placed in wooden boxes
> for their funeral on Monday.
> A third body - of a teenage boy - has already been
> taken for burial west of Baghdad.
> "We've seen many similar cases in this area," says
> Saddam hospital doctor Muhammad Dahham.
> "But they've been small things, injuries, burning of
> cars. It has never reached the level of murder before
> this morning."
> Dr Dahham is referring to the simmering inter-sect
> tensions in the teeming slums of western Baghdad,
> which in the last week appear to have taken a bloody
> new turn.
> Killers waiting
> The two bodies in the freezer belong to Sheikh Ahmed
> Khudeir and his brother Walid Khudeir, who were killed
> walking back home in the Washash neighbourhood early
> on Sunday morning after dawn prayers.
> The dead teenager - Taisir Falih - used to act as eyes
> for the 40-year-old sheikh, who was blind. Brother
> Walid was also disabled.
> Local resident Majid Ahmed says he saw the killers at
> a T-junction near his house as he went before dawn to
> the Washash mosque to pray.
> They were still sitting there, in a small black car,
> as he returned from the mosque at about 0530.
> The sheikh's habit was to remain at the mosque for a
> few minutes after prayers and proceed slowly home with
> Taisir along an unpaved, potholed road with the
> typical open sewer running down the middle as in so
> many poor Baghdad neighbourhoods.
> "About 15 minutes after I got home I heard the
> gunfire," Mr Ahmed told the BBC. "I was scared and did
> not look out until the killers had gone and the three
> bodies were lying on the ground."
> Brutal killing
> The deaths have shocked the poverty-stricken Washash
> slum, but the manner of their killing has added to
> their anguish.
> "I have not seen the bodies myself," Dr Dahham told
> the BBC. "But my colleague said that each one had many
> bullets in it."
> Fifteen Kalashnikov rounds for the sheikh, 13 for his
> brother and nine for the young boy, according to
> people in Washash who had gone with the bodies to
> Saddam hospital.
> "The gunmen killed them first and then emptied the
> magazines into the dead bodies," said one resident.
> As far as the mosque faithful are concerned, there is
> only one explanation for what happened on Sunday
> morning.
> Ahmed Khudeir was a Sunni sheikh at a Sunni mosque and
> he was killed by members of the local Shia militia,
> they believe.
> The militia they have in mind - the Badr brigades -
> belongs to a leading Shia political party which has a
> seat on the US-appointed Governing Council.
> Empty office
> It was impossible to get the other side of the story
> in Washash because the local branch of the party in
> question - the Supreme Council for the Islamic
> Revolution in Iraq - had hastily abandoned their
> offices earlier in the day.
> Sunni and Shia alike in Washash have taken that as
> tantamount to an admission of guilt for the morning's
> killings - although it may just be common sense to
> avoid a possible Sunni backlash.
> Doubtless Shias have also been killed by Sunnis across
> Iraq's religious divide - never more so than during
> Saddam Hussein's rule - but not, according to the
> medical officials, in this kind of brutal internecine
> struggle played out in the backstreets of Baghdad.
> As for the men of the Washash mosque, they vowed they
> wouldn't be seeking to avenge their sheikh.
> "We are Muslims and so we're against spilling one drop
> of blood," says Abdul Hamid Rashid. "Revenge is for
> God Almighty alone."
> Growing trend
> The trail that led to Washash is worth mentioning,
> because Sunday morning's killing has gone unreported
> by the international or even the local media.
> In fact it appears to be part of a worrying trend that
> has also gone unnoticed.
> Last week doctors at Yarmouk hospital had told me they
> had just treated victims of a drive-by shooting with
> sectarian overtones. At least four people had been
> shot dead after evening prayers at the Hassanein
> Mosque in Amriya, and seven injured.
> I had not seen a single other report to confirm this
> incident so I decided to go to the mosque -
> purportedly a Wahhabi institution in a strongly Sunni
> area - to check out the story.
> In fact, Hassanein official Sheikh Adnan denied the
> killings had anything to do with the mosque itself,
> saying the victims were former regime intelligence men
> who happened to pray there - though they did allege
> Shia militias were behind the attack.
> However, the sheikh told us that Amriya was not the
> only incident; he told us of the Washash shooting that
> morning and another shooting in another western
> Baghdad suburb a few days earlier.
> Nightmare scenario
> If the talk at Washash was of the certainty of God's
> revenge - at Hassanein there was a sharp debate on
> what the response should be.
> One hothead was berating the community's inactivity,
> when the Sunni faithful "sit idly while attacks go
> unpunished".
> But Sheikh Adnan overruled him saying that that path
> leads to much greater suffering for both Shia and
> Sunni communities.
> However there is little love lost between the sheikh
> and the Shia, and especially the powerful Sciri
> organisation.
> "When we went to give our condolences for the death of
> Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim, they said 'Look,
> here come the Jewish Wahhabis'," he recalls.
> It could be that the May attack on Ayatollah al-Hakim,
> which killed at least 80 people in the Shia holy city
> of Najaf and has still not been solved, was the
> trigger for all this violence.
> The question is, are the ingredients in place to
> spiral in full-scale Sunni-Shia conflict?
> This nightmare scenario has already become a realistic
> possibility in parts of Shia-dominated southern Iraq.
> But if the conflict develops further in the mixed
> suburbs of Baghdad, Washington's plans to put Iraq
> back on the road to recovery may be heading for their
> biggest setback yet.
> __________________________________
> Do you Yahoo!?
> Exclusive Video Premiere - Britney Spears
> _______________________________________________
> Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
> To unsubscribe, visit
> To contact the list manager, email
> All postings are archived on CASI's website:

Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
To unsubscribe, visit
To contact the list manager, email
All postings are archived on CASI's website:

[Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]